by Whit Gibbons

May 30, 2004

Someone sent me a flyer being distributed in her neighborhood. It reads in part:

"Coyotes--Many residents in our area are concerned about the three coyotes living in our neighborhood. At least three dogs have been killed by these wild animals. A neighborhood meeting concerning this issue was held last week. . . . It was decided we should attend the next City Council meeting . . . to voice our concerns. If you support the removal of these wild animals from our backyards, please join us in attending the City Council meeting. . . ."

Strong attitudes can be expected any time another species begins to encroach on humans and affect our property, health, or other aspects of our lives. As coyotes become more common in many parts of the eastern United States, concerns about them are becoming more widespread. Repeating some of my responses to earlier questions about these animals may be helpful.

Q. Are coyotes dangerous to dogs or people?

A. Coyotes will attack cats and even dogs on occasion. A large healthy dog will fare better than a small breed, and a coyote is more likely to run than to attack under normal circumstances. I am unaware of a coyote attacking a human, although I suppose the atypical case may be out there somewhere, as always seems to be true when I declare that a certain type of wild animal will not attack people. Possibly a rabid coyote or one with distemper would attack a person, but the numerous coyotes I have encountered in the wild have seemed greatly intimidated by or at least shy around adult humans.

Q. We have coyotes in our neighborhood. Should we be concerned when our grandchildren come visit?

A. I would not be concerned about the safety of young children when coyotes are in the area as long as a grownup is nearby. Of course I would not leave infants or very young children unattended even if no coyotes were around and would be far more concerned about the presence of some people than about most coyotes.

Q. What is the best way to catch a coyote so that it can be removed from a suburban area?

A. Not knowing the answer myself, I turned to an expert, Dr. Julie Weston, who studies large mammals: "My initial response is give it up and leave it to a professional. Do not put your health and safety at risk dealing with a coyote except in an emergency. Shooting coyotes does not require a permit in some states, but in a suburban area, discharging firearms may be illegal in itself. Trapping usually requires a permit, as other animals are likely to be trapped as well. An inexperienced trapper will capture many raccoons, opossums, and maybe a fox or two before the first coyote. Your most likely capture in many suburban areas will be your neighbor's dog. Even for professionals, catching a coyote can take patience and require a major effort. For someone untrained in dealing with wildlife, the feat is not impossible but is definitely difficult and could be illegal."

Finding out what to do, or not do, about coyotes could become more and more important as their numbers increase in suburban America. Flyers similar to the one above are likely to become more common over the ever-expanding geographic range of the coyote. One factor to be considered by any community is that most states no longer have the personnel to take care of animal problems on an individual basis because of the unfortunate decline in support of state wildlife departments. However, wildlife professionals who know how to catch or kill animals and have the necessary permits can be found in many areas. As with other service professions, some are highly reputable and some are rip-off artists. So, let the buyer of coyote killers beware.

If you are attending a meeting of local officials at which concerns about a perceived pest are to be addressed, knowing general biological facts about the species in question will be helpful in promoting your cause. In dealing with concerns about coyotes, it's important to have confirmed data--not just speculation--about specific activities and events attributed to the animals in the neighborhood.

If you have an environmental question or comment, email

(Back to Ecoviews)